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Asia-Pacific Nations Urged to Study Biofuels More Carefully

Scientists urged Asia-Pacific nations to study the issue of biofuels with greater care, saying that there is an urgent need to support the current rush toward major decisions on biofuel policies in the region with solid research and unbiased information about their potential benefits, impact, and risks.

This appeal came at the end of a recent Expert Consultation on Biofuels organized by the Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) together with the Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in India, the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.

There’s no doubt biofuels will have an impact on agriculture in Asia and the Pacific and present some very interesting new opportunities. But we need to be absolutely sure this will not affect the region’s food security and its continuing efforts to alleviate poverty.

—R.S. Paroda, APAARI’s executive secretary

In the Asian region, both China and India are gearing up for substantial investments in biofuels. Malaysia and Indonesia are investing heavily in oil palm plantations for biodiesel production. The Philippines has mandated the blending of gasoline with 5% biofuel. However, at the same time, countries such as China have currently banned the use of maize—a vital food crop for national food and feed security—as biofuel.

Key conclusions of the Expert Consultations were:

  1. The Bioenergy Revolution is fast approaching. Biofuels will play a major role in the global economy of the future. Many countries are exploring different strategies and policies on alternative energy sources, and the Asia-Pacific region, in particular, is expected to play a significant role in the development and promotion of biofuels.

  2. Poverty is still widespread in Asia. It is not clear to what extent poor farmers will benefit from the Bioenergy Revolution. What is clear is that the introduction and/or expansion of biofuel crops will cause major land-use changes, and that many feedstocks (although originally targeted at marginal lands) will compete with food crops in productive eco-regions. The challenge is to ensure a balance between food and biofuel production.

  3. Policymakers need to protect the poor from rising commodity prices likely to be triggered by the diversion of crop produce or area expansion of biofuel crops. Therefore, there is an urgent need to strengthen policy research in order to avoid decisions that may lead to competition between food and bioenergy, and identify a complementary approach that benefits both sectors.

  4. International organizations and the international agricultural research centers (IARCs) must accelerate their biofuel-related research in order to generate much-needed international public goods (IPGs) that will benefit resource-poor farmers. They also need to enhance regional coordination of R&D efforts on bioenergy in the Asia-Pacific region, encourage regional information sharing, and facilitate research networking and capacity building of NARES.

  5. Public-sector research needs to ensure that technology advances made in the private sector ultimately benefit the poor in the developing world. This is particularly important for many second-generation biofuel technologies, which, for want of proper policies and IPR regime, may not be accessible to poor farmers in Asia. Public-private partnerships, being the key factor, will have to be established and promoted.

  6. It is critical that scientists examine and share unbiased information on the life cycle performance and economics of bioenergy technologies, and their impact on food security and poverty. The social and environmental impacts of these technologies will also have to be assessed. This requires a standardized typology of food-feed-fiber-energy–producing agricultural systems as well as standardized methodologies for their integrated assessment.

  7. Asian countries should consider the use of crop residues, especially rice and wheat straw, which are largely being burned in most countries. This is a priority area for R&D, particularly with regard to thermal conversion technologies for different scales and the level of residue retention, which may be needed for sustainable land use under different cropping systems.

  8. Potential biofuel-producing countries in Asia should conduct their own national assessments critically and devise appropriate strategies to meet long-term bioenergy goals. APAARI and other regional/global organizations should devise strategies for the Bioenergy Revolution, and sensitize policymakers so that Asia-Pacific countries can reap the expected benefits.

  9. The donor community should fund new R&D efforts on bioenergy, since the long-run benefits will lead to both poverty alleviation and protection of the environment – thus meeting two of the major Millennium Development Goals.



Rafael Seidl

The food vs. fuel debate will continue as long as biofuel crops either actually are food crops or, if they compete with them for arable land and irrigation water. Eliminating this conflict will mean producing alternate biofuel feedstocks on otherwise marginal land or, leveraging waste by-products of food production.

One of the biggest obstacles is that in many developing countries, a small number of politically well-connected tycoons are able to put their own short-term commercial interests before long-term social considerations. In other words, even where there is democracy, the middle class needed to make it work well is still small.

If R & D efforts in the region are co-ordinated among governments and with Western donors, there is no reason why concepts such as algal oil cannot be made to work in the tropics. A key advance will be finding marine algae species that can do the job in salt water.

In particular, solutions that leverage the surface of the ocean surrounding uninhabited islands - of which there are many thousands in Asia - could be very interesting. Simple floating skirts could be the basis for the required boundary. Some of the crop will no doubt be eaten by fish, but with some lateral thinking perhaps these could be co-farmed.

In e.g. India, arid regions of land could be pressed into service, using windmills to pump salt water from the coast into racetrack ponds with plexiglass covers. The associated infrastructure is expensive, but the condensate collected can be used as drinking water or, to irrigate food crops.

The solution lies not in trading off food vs. fuel but rather, in producing both in areas that previously yielded only one, or neither.

Harvey D


Good ideas but have considered (instead) complete electrification of our individual and mass tansportation vehicles, homes, schools, plus other commercial and industrial sites.

This could reduce liquid fuel consumption well within what could be produced with various types of waste, not with food crops. It is somewhat ridiculous to fill up our gas guzzlers with corn and sugar while millions are starving.

The extra electrical energy required could easily be produced with wind, sun, waves, geothermal and nuclear.

Roger Pham

In Asia: a lot of people, little arable land, little food, low in natural resources...ergo, food for fuel is out of the question.

Waste biomass would be highly valuable for raw material and feedstock in chemical manufacturing once petroleum will be gone, so, the use of these for fuel would not be sound in the post-petroleum era.

May be algae sea farming may hold promise as additional food and raw organic material sources, and any leftover may be used as biodiesel fuel.

Solar and wind energy will hold the most promises. The synthesis of solar and wind energy into fuels such as H2, NH3, CH4, CH3OH, etc.. may be the most practical long-term solution. China's population, at 1.3 billions, is still growing at 0.6%.


I think everything has two sides, advantages and disadvantages. I myself hope that Hydrogen will hold the most promise. Hi
Hoang Buu Quoc

Rafael Seidl

@ Harvey D -

it'll be a while yet before the average western consumer can afford a pure BEV, never mind anyone in the Third World. How long do you think the average Joe there is willing to wait for his own set of wheels?

If there is a cost breakthrough in battery technology, the whole game changes. Unless and until that happens, we have no choice but to press ahead with improvements in ICE-powered vehicles and the fuels that power them. These R&D efforts should and do proceed in parallel all over the world.

As for driving around oh-so-cleanly on electricity from nuclear plants, remember that 60 years into the nuclear age, there is still no-one who want their back yard to be used as an ultimate repository for the waste. Until that and a few other thorny issues (safety, proliferation) are solved, a renaissance of nuclear power is unlikely to happen in the OECD nations, in spite of worries about the global climate. Only a single new reactor has gone online in the past decade in those countries, and it's in Finland.

By contrast, China and India are among the rapidly developing nations that are expanding their nuclear power plant inventory. However, they don't know what to do with their waste, either.

@ oilman_vn -

well, hope spings eternal. Hydrogen has to be produced from natural gas (why not just drive a CNG vehicle?) or electricity (why not just drive a BEV/PHEV?). In North America, natural gas is fairly scarce, so beyond the early adopter stage the so-called hydrogen economy would really be just a figleaf for more nuclear power (see above).

Advertisers often try to associate hydrogen-powered vehicles with solar panels and windmills but the fact is the electricity they produce is still far too expensive to support a really significant BEV/PHEV fleet. Economics rather than technology is what drives any market and, especially, commodity markets like energy.

Roger Pham

One good thing is that in the weather in Asia overall is not so harshly cold as in Europe, and there is no urban sprawl like in America, such that bicycles, which are 100% ecologically sound, or electrically-assisted bike, will serve as viable transportation for the masses. Buses and subway trains can be powered by electricity, methane, or even hydrogen. Richer people can drive in the likes of the Prius 3rd gen or better, in the near future.

The transportation solution for Asia is nowhere as daunting as in America with huge urban sprawl and gas-guzzling SUV's. The food supply issue, on the other hand, is just the opposite.


“…renaissance of nuclear power is unlikely to happen in the OECD nations.”

Rafael, do not bet a farm on this. Currently 30 commercial nuclear reactors are under construction, including one in Finland, France, S.Korea, Romania and Argentina, two in Canada, Japan and Slovakia, seven in Russia. Much more are planned:

Also of interest:
“In a unanimous Sunday morning vote, hundreds of members of the California Republican Party agreed to work to end the state’s 31-year ban on the construction of new nuclear power plants. The official vote was taken at the California Republican Party’s semiannual convention which featured appearances by presidential candidate U.S. Senator John McCain, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the governors of Texas, Florida, Utah, and Minnesota.
The pro-nuclear power resolution, was unanimously approved the day before by the state Party’s Initiatives Committee. The resolution places the full weight of the party of more than 5.3 million voters behind a ballot initiative to overturn California’s obsolete ban on the construction of new, safe, clean, and reliable nuclear power plants. The initiative is known as the California Energy Independence and Zero Carbon Dioxide Emission Electrical Generation Act of 2008.
Assemblyman DeVore and his group, Power For California, are now gathering the 433,971 signatures needed to place the initiative on the June 2008 ballot.
A recent opinion poll in California showed likely voters to be in favor of building nuclear power plants to meet California’s growing energy needs by a margin of 52 percent to 42 percent.”


Freeper? LOL.

Harvey D


Transportation vehicles electrification can be done progressively over a 20+ year period. Of course, the first generation (Prius type I and II hybrids) are very partial electric units. The next hybrid generation (2009) will go further on the electric mode (10 to 15 Km).

By 2010-2012, PHEVs will go 40 to 60 Km on the electric mode. Second generation PHEVs (2012-2015) will certainly go 100 to 120 Km on the electric mode.

By 2015-2020, affordable BEVs with 300+ Km range will hit the market These will not completely replace PHEVs (specially for long distances) but will replace many ICE machines.

After 2020-2025, PHEV-BEV mix should meet most requirements and ICE machines sales will drop quickly.

Producing the extra clean electrical energy required is not a real challenge. Progressive development of Wind, Solar, Wave, Geothermal and clean Nuclear will do it.

Upgrading the existing electrical distribution grids is a very well known technology and will be done on an as required basis.

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